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Worst dwellings in Manteca: Drug houses

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POSTED June 15, 2011 10:25 p.m.

There are tattle-tail signs in many cases.

The house may have more traffic than a 7-Eleven at all hours of the day and night.

Those that come and go tend to be for short stays.

Sometimes the house looks like a page out of Tobacco Road with a large volume of junk with the caveat it almost seems like a Sanford & Sons copy cat home business based on the turnover of everything from couches and office chairs to boxes and boxes of stuff.

Often there will be a ton of petty property crimes in a 10-block radius.

The house could also be one of the nicest on the block.

It may even have six or so security cameras.

Either which way the houses are the bane of neighborhoods and frustrate the heck out of law enforcement.

They are the one type of housing Manteca - and any community - can do without, drug houses.

Drug houses come up every time Police Chief Dave Bricker has one of his monthly “Coffee with the Chief” sessions on Saturday mornings at Manteca restaurants.

How many drug houses does Manteca have?

The police don’t have a handle on exact numbers and Bricker said he’d only be making an educated guess. That said he figures it is around a half of one percent of all of Manteca’s 22,000 housing units.

That comes to 110. Bricker upon reflecting a moment zeroes in on a number “likely between 60 and 100.”

One thing he is absolutely sure of: Every neighborhood in Manteca either currently or in the past has had a drug house in it.

And the more rentals, the higher the chance of a drug house popping up which explains one of the reasons behind the city’s drive to help first-time homebuyers. Drug houses rarely are in an owner-occupied dwelling. That said, those who rent homes for use as drug houses make sure they never miss a rent payment.

And don’t think the drugs they’re peddling are the likes of simply marijuana, meth, heroin, cocaine, and such. A large chunk of drug sales are prescription drugs.

On the flip side, the drug problem in Manteca has improved since the 1990s. Back then it was common for police to make two to three arrests a day for possession, to bust a meth lab at least once a month, and to take down drug houses on a routine basis. It was thanks to then Police Chief Rich Gregson making it clear to the street crimes unit then known as MCOPs that the best way to drive the property crime rate down is to take out drug houses.

However, that is easier said than done. Almost all drug houses anymore sell to “people they know” which makes an undercover buy nearly impossible.

The police have to compile a lot of intelligence and then try to convince a judge to issue a search warrant.

That brings us back to the monthly coffee with the chief. Most who tell Bricker about drug houses in their neighborhood assumed the police already knew.

In many cases they don’t already know. And even in cases where they know they need a lot of help. That involves citizens constantly and patiently accessing the government outreach via the Internet to make incident reports such as petty thefts they may consider too small to report or even observations such as short-stay traffic and a 24/7 traffic pattern. It also helps in many cases to constantly report property maintenance issues such as junk, cars remaining parked too long on the street and such. Even e-mails help.

Getting license numbers of some of those short-term stays that keep coming back over and over again might allow the police to get a leg up if it belongs to vehicle owned by a felon on searchable probation or might even be stolen. While that may be a rare occurrence in hitting pay dirt, it does happen.

Citizen input in addition to what the police are able to glean could be enough to convince a judge for a warrant.

And don’t think this is a problem of “older” neighborhoods. The biggest meth labs and pot growing operations - while not exactly drug houses where illegal substances are sold - have been in McMansion neighborhoods built since 2000.

It also isn’t helping that many of those “non-violent” felons the Supreme Court has ordered California to release are drug house operators that Manteca and other jurisdictions put away. They didn’t need to learn a new criminal trade in prison. They already have one.

Sometimes with a concerted neighborhood effort it can take months for the police to get what they need to secure a warrant. Sometimes it takes years. But in the end, it is the only way to take back your neighborhood. Police can’t do it without your help.

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